Madison doctor opens medical abortion clinic in Rockford

ROCKFORD, IL. – Two caregivers on opposite sides of the Wisconsin-Illinois border have come out of retirement and come together to provide abortion access to those in need of treatment where it’s still legal.

Madison doctor Dennis Christensen put the plans in motion in June to open Rockford Family Planning, a clinic that provides pill-based abortions, because an 1849 state law went into effect after the overthrow of Roe v. Wade that bans nearly all abortions in Wisconsin.

“I felt compelled because I had been doing this for the past 50 years to try and ease the burden on the patients that I have been serving,” he said.

Also feeling the need to step in was lifelong caregiver Meg Larkin. Larkin said that when her former colleague asked her to get back to work and serve as his clinic’s center administrator, she immediately said yes.

“There is something extremely fulfilling in being able to do something that is so meaningful,” Larkin said. “Even if it does mean you work in the trenches.”

To make the clinic a reality as quickly as possible, Christen paid out of pocket for the property on Auburn St. and its renovation. Last Friday the clinic saw their first patient, but getting to that point meant first dealing with some community pushback.

For months, members of the Rockford Family Initiative, an anti-abortion group, have been protesting the clinic, in part because of their religious beliefs. Group president Kevin Rilott said, however, it’s also about the neighborhood.

“This clinic is going into a residential neighborhood that will change it forever,” he said. “It’s just not fair to the people who live in this residential neighborhood to have this right next door to them.”

Christensen said it hasn’t been a large issue because opposition has only come from a few people, and Larkin said they are getting some area support.  She pointed to the pieces of artwork hanging on their walls as proof. Every single one, she said, was donated by someone from the community.

Larkin said that when providing abortion access, protestors just come with the territory. She also noted it’s one of the reasons they have security measures like surveillance cameras and secure entries.

“The protestors will do what they do, they will come when they want to come,” she said. “They will carry the signs that they carry and we want to be able for our people to just come in: feel safe, feel secure and do what they need.”

In addition to providing medical abortions, the clinic also helps offer information on adoption. Larkins said so far, many from both southern Wisconsin and Rockford have reached out looking for assistance.

The clinic is currently working on making Medicaid an option for their clients. Support is also available for Wisconsin-based patients through the Women’s Medical Fund.

Construction is underway for a second clinic that will add surgical abortions to Rockford Family Planning’s care options. Administrators said if all goes well they expect it to open in April.